Without the availability of an environment more conducive to conducting an interview, we planted our asses on the concrete in front of a closed pizza joint (amidst the bustling traffic of mouse-eared tourists and cross-dressing punk clones) in downtown Orlando. From this vantage point we watched unnoticed as traffic passed us by. Seemingly the perfect place to chain smoke a pack of Camel Wides and have a chat about the origins of American punk rock and the strains of addiction.
We look like a couple of bums on skid row waiting to score a fix.
I haven't done drugs in 2 years.
No shit, you've been dry for 2 years?
Not dry, I'm in recovery. Dry is a totally different thing. Dry is when you abstain from drugs and alcohol altogether. You don't practice in following a program of recovery; which is one of the only cures there is, like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. I happen to have a problem with heroin addiction, so I mainly attend Narcotics Anonymous. But it's a 12 step program, I'm sure you're aware of what it consists of.
I'll admit, (probably by definition) I'm a binge drinker maybe even a functional alcoholic, but I haven't made it to AA yet.
Well, it entails going to meetings. You know I went to detox with just the clothes on my back. Basically, I crashed a couple of cars, lost my job at the music conservatory, lost my job as a music writer, not to mention I burned down my place. I kind of reached the end of my rope. I didn't have any money. I didn't have a place to go. My fiancé at the time was also a heroin addict. She was trying to get straight and I was trying to get straight, but I couldn't and she could. So I went into detox and rehab for 30 days. Then I went to live in a halfway house for another 60 days with other drug addicts, ex-convicts and people who'd been otherwise institutionalized. Then I moved in with another recovery addict. Now I go to meetings and work the steps. You know, I have a sponsor and I have people I sponsor. This is like the 3rd or 4th time I tried to get some time away from it. The first time, I quit doing drugs I wasn't dry. I kept drinking, smoking pot and taking pills and stuff like that. I just stayed away from my drug of choice. It only took a suggestion from somebody when I was at a low point to go out and score some heroin and I was back on it. But now I've got two years of being clean and sober.
Cool. I've got some good friends that went down that road. Luckily I've only been hit with that morning after blank shame and the occasional 2 day hangover associated with alcohol. Every so often someone will make a comment regarding alcohol abuse and granted I don't have a valid defense. Hell tonight at the show I'll probably deteriorate into a slurring degenerate.
Well do it until you're done with it, you know. You don't necessarily have to lose everything like I did. But when you find it's time, I'm here to tell you, you can most definitely find a spiritual high. The alcohol and the heroin are symptoms of a habit. It's a disease of perception. It's the way you perceive the world. It's the way you perceive yourself; low self-esteem, thinking you're a victim, believing the world is a difficult place to navigate (which I still do from time to time). I have to accept the world and that everything around me is exactly the way it's supposed to be. The only thing I have power over is changing my perception of the world. The drugs are a solution to me. It takes away the apathy that I feel. Without it I'm raw and exposed to the elements. You know I get irritated at times, but the only thing I can do is change my perception and say "I have to accept things the way they are"
So what have you filled your time with rather than heroin?
I've been mostly concentrating on recovering from drugs and alcohol. I work a humble job. I go to meetings. You know I had to put that in front on any kind of relationship that I've had. Which might sound selfish, but if I'm no good, I'm not good for anybody around me. I was told if I put that first, everything else will fall into place. My relationships will start to get healthier as I get healthier.
Let's kick it over to a lighter note. You've been a part of the So Cal music scene forever and a day (whether it is with the Circle Jerks or the Weirdoes or other projects). What do you remember of the scene so many hold as the heyday of punk?
I wasn't with the Weirdoes in the late 70's and early 80's. I joined shortly after they came out with their first full length LP Condor. That was long after Weirdo Mania, long after those guys were super popular. Not to mention they were the 1st punk band in Los Angeles. I joined them in '87 or something like that. I've been with them off and on for the last 19 years. I've been with the Circle Jerks since 1984.
So you being a guy from that era and area, me being a guy from Bradenton, FL first getting into punk in the late 80's early 90's, you lived in a scene widely respected where as I've only read about.
The thing is, it's funny, so many people have memories of punk rock and how being in the scene back then was great. I really don't remember much because I didn't find it that significant at the time. I was just doing what I was doing. I'm sure a lot of other people would say they remember everything and stuff like that. But for me, I was just in a scene that I never would've predicted punk rock would have made the impact that it has. I mean especially commercially like it has now and as far as pop culture goes. You know, there's books being written about the history of punk rock. There's movies being made about it. Everywhere you go there's people fashioning themselves after punk rockers. People I saw in the 80's, I see exact replicas of the same people. I don't know where they got their sources, but they're accurately attired. They act the same. It's just weird that it would take a turn for pop culture because it wasn't popular back then. I think it's ridiculous. Back then I think punk rock was more of a tribe…….. about being part of a tribe and having some individuality. Having to dig under rocks to find the music that you liked. And put your clothes together or whatever. But, I was never that guy. The closest I came is being in the Weirdoes. They wouldn't even say they're punk rock, they'd say they're weirdoes from Hollywood. We put together outfits I guess.
But you couldn't go out to the mall and buy a punk rock uniform.
Dude, I'm a nerdy kid who got a break and did a film in '84….
Right, Repo Man.
And at that time I heard Circle Jerks were holding auditions I was living in a 10x10 office space with no bathroom, no kitchen, and no shower. I was basically squatting when I heard it on the street. I was so desperate counting pennies to buy something to eat. I'd go down to the unemployment office to find jobs. So I was like "fuck it". I did it for the money. I was so broke. I needed money and that sounds odd because punk rock doesn't make any money. That just gives you an idea of how desperate and how close to living on the streets I was. That was a break for me.
Your honesty is refreshing.
I don't mean to paint a dark or an indifferent picture. I have to be honest, my life depends on it. I'm just a human being who got involved with a band and a scene and I had no idea where it would take me. I was just living in the moment you know.
Even if you just fell into it, look at all the things you've contributed to throughout the years.
I'm thankful in the fact that I was able to contribute and have been a part of some innovative stuff. I'm very, very happy for things that I've contributed; with the bands and projects and films and other stuff I've been a part of because they all have a lot of integrity. There's also a curse surrounding things with integrity because you never quite achieve any financial security or feel safe as far as dealing with the elements. Honestly, I'm real happy with what I've done. But I'm more concerned with what I'm doing now and what I'm doing tomorrow.
On the topic of projects other than music, you were in Repo Man, how many other movies have you been in?
Probably half a dozen or more, maybe ten, something like that. Probably the most notable ones being Repo Man, Straight to Hell, I did music for Sid & Nancy (that's where I met Joe Strummer), Walker (which was down in Nicaragua).
Wasn't Walker a Joe Strummer flick?
Yeah, I did the score for that with Joe. I played all the guitars and all the weird string instruments on that. That led me to quit the Circle Jerks in the late 80's and join up with Joe Strummer.
Wait, with the Mescalero's?
No, this was post Clash, pre Mescaleros. He called it his wilderness years. The myth is that Joe was pretty inactive in those days, but we were doing films and he made a solo record, and did quite a bit of touring. After doing all that with Joe he basically said "Hey man, you're such a talented guitar player, you shouldn't be wasting yourself playing bass in a punk rock band. You should play guitar with me." So I took his advice and quit playing with the Circle Jerks to go play in London and be a part of his crew.
After all these years, The Circle Jerks still get the crowd electrified, what are your thoughts on 16 year old kids slam dancing to your music?
Truthfully I don't care what people do. I used to put a lot of stock in that. I'd much prefer to play to a captive audience to tell the truth. You know, people who are actually looking at the band and listening. But, as I get older, I've been thinking that it's kind of cool (at our age) that we can still churn people into a frenzy. I actually kind of like it now. But hey man, I'm a musician. What I do it for is to bring something to the world that will be remembered and to bring people a sort of therapy. Whether it's blowing off some steam or whether it's having a good time or whatever, first and foremost it's for my own therapy. I don't have much of a choice; I was put here to play music. It doesn't matter what kind of music that is or who hears it (or if anybody hears it for that matter). I was put in this world to be a musician and a writer, to be somebody who puts something out there that hopefully touches someone else. Hopefully it'll touch someone else.
I'd say some of your handiwork has touched quite a few people. I think my tattoo of the Circle Jerks logo attests to that.
Well, the Circle Jerks are just a grain of what I am.
But it's a grain that's gotten under a lot of people's skin, figuratively and literally.